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Native Pollinator - Lost and Found

Rare orchid's pollinator recovered

  • Hannah Schardt
  • Oct 01, 2007
FOR THE PAST 13 YEARS, Larry Richardson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, has been playing the part of a bee, pollinating by hand some 15 rare cigar orchids known to remain in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Missing for at least that long, the plant's native pollinator remained a mystery.

Then, two years ago, Richardson discovered that some orchids had produced seed capsules without him--they'd been pollinated naturally, but by what? To find out, Daniela Dutra, a graduate student at the University of Florida at Gainesville, staked out a cigar orchid last spring and spent six days in the swamp observing it. Finally, she netted an insect later identified as the native carpenter bee Xylocopa micans. Whether X. micans is the plant's original pollinator is unknown, but "my feeling is that the bee used to be around and was wiped out by pesticide spraying in nearby agricultural fields," says Dutra, who with Richardson eagerly awaits next spring's flowering season to see whether the insect returns.

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